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William Holme Van Buren

Born  1819
Died  1883

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American surgeon, born April 5, 1819, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died March 25, 1883, New York City.

Biography of William Holme Van Buren

William Holme Van Buren was the son and grandson of physicians. His great-grandfather, Abraham van Buren, was the son of John Beuren, who had attended the lectures of Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738) in Leyden and immigrated from Beuren, near Amsterdam, to New York in 1700. His grandfather, Beekman van Buren, was physician to the New York poorhouse when he died in 1812.

William Holme van Buren attended Yale College in his native city from 1834. He continued at the University of Philadelphia, where he completed his studies before the legal age at which a diploma could be awarded him. He then spent some eighteen months in Paris for further education, before he returned to the University of Pennsylvania to receive his doctorate in 1840. That year he was appointed surgeon in the United States army. In 1842 he married Louisa Dunmore Mott, daughter of the famous surgeon Valentine Mott (1785-1865), whom Van Beuren had met in Paris. After resigning from the army on December 31, 1845, he went to New York City to assist his father-in-law as prosector in his surgical clinic in the medical department of the University New York.

When Bellevue Hospital – New York University Medical Center – was organized in 1847, Van Buren was appointed one of the surgeons. On March 2, 1849, he publicly performed a perineal lithotomy, inaugurating Bellevue’s new operative amphitheatre. In 1851, the New York University Medical College made him the Clinical Professor of Genito-Urinary Diseases. In 1849 he also became surgeon to St. Vincent Hospital, and in 1852 he succeeded professor Granville Sharp Pattison (1791-1851) in the chair of anatomy at the New York university medical college. He remained in this position until the burning of the college building in 1865.

In 1852 he also became a visiting surgeon at the New York Hospital, where he was a consulting surgeon from 1868. Here he was active in particular under his father-in-law, the famous surgeon Valentine Mott educating himself to become an excellent operator. Van Buren was later attending and subsequently consulting surgeon at St. Vincent’s Hospital and at the Charity Hospital on Blackwell’s Island.

In 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Van Buren was one of the founders of the United States sanitary commission, and served as the medical member of its executive committee throughout the civil war, declining the appointment of surgeon-general of the United States army.

Van Buren's plans for a new building near Bellevue Hospital were rejected and he resigned his professorship his professorship in the University medical college in 1866, on being elected professor of surgery for the newly established department of diseases of the genito-urinary system in Bellevue hospital medical college. This was the first urologic ward in the country. In 1868 this chair was combined with that of principles and practice of surgery, and in 1871-1873 he acted as professor of clinical surgery also. He also held the position of professor of theoretical and practical surgery at the Bellevue Hospital Medical College until shortly before his death.

In 1859 van Buren became vice president of the New York Academy of Medicine, and the same year was elected president of the Pathological Society. He was corresponding member of the Paris surgical society.

Van Buren is still famed for his skill in amputations and other operations of general surgery, but particularly distinguished himself in the field of diseases of the urogenital system, on which he published several valuable contributions. His areas of specialty were the rectum, bladder and kidney. His lectures on syphilis at the latter were among the most popular and best attended in New York.

Van Buren published an American edition of Charles Morel’s (1823-1884) book on histology and of Claude Bernard’s (1813-1878) and Charles Huette’s operative surgery, which was official guide to the military physicians during the war - every surgeon in the federal army received one copy.


  • Contributions to practical surgery. New York, 1865.
  • Enlargement of the prostate. The Medical Record, New York, 1866.
  • Clinical lectures on traumatic stricture. The Medical Record, New York, 1866.
  • On Chronic urethral discharges. The Medical Record, New York, 1866.
  • Lectures on diseases of the rectum. New York, 1870.
  • A practical treatise on the surgical diseases of the genito-urinary organs, including syphilis, with engravings and cases.
    With Edward Lawrence Keyes (1843-1924). New York, 1874.
  • A novel disease of the penis. New York Medical Journal, 1874.
  • On lithotrity by a single operation with cases. The Medical Record, New York, 1878.
  • Is there an “American method” of treating fractures of the thigh?
    The Medical Record, New York, 1878.
  • Lectures on abscess in the neighbourhood of the anus and rectum.
    The Medical Record, New York, 1878.
  • Exstirpatio recti (Volkmann) for cancer, with cases.
    The Medical Record, New York, 1878.
  • On rapid lithotripy with evacuation; litholapaxy of Bigelow.
    The Medical Record, New York, 1879.
  • Lectures upon diseases of the rectum and the surgery of the lower bowel.
    London, 1881.
    Works referred to:
  • Compendium of Human Histology. Edited and translated by W. H. Van Buren.
    New York: Baillière Brothers, 1861. ii + 207 pages.
    First English translation of Charles Morel's Précis d'histologie humaine, Paris, 1860.
  • Illustrated Manual of Operative Surgery and Surgical Anatomy.
    New York, 1855. Reprinted 1991.
    Translation with notes and additions by Van Buren and Charles Edward Isaacs (1811-1860) of:
    Claude Bernard (1813-1878) and Charles Huette: Précis iconographique de médecine opératoire et d'anatomie chirurgicale. Paris: Crapelet & H. Lahure for Méquignon-Marvis, 1848.
    This illustrated textbook of surgery was reprinted as late as 1873 and translated into English, German, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish. The edition most commonly referred to is that of 1856.

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